|Louise and Madeleine managed to miss the whole mess. Rice University had invited Madeleine to spend a couple of days on campus to encourage her to go to college there. At this point, the main schools she is trying to choose among are: Rice, Wellesley, Barnard and Macalister. She and Louise left early Sunday morning, had a smooth flight down and arrived in Houson, where the sky was clear and it was in the 70ies. Madeleine was favorably impressed by the students she met and the classes she attended, but the evaluation will go on.
Our other big news is that we made it to Turkey over spring break. We all pronounced it awesome and Louise is ready to move back to Istanbul permanently. Check out our awesome travelog here.
New from the Monkeynut, spring 2007 - One of the more interesting things that happened to me recently was getting called for grand jury duty in the county courthouse. Whatís that, I hear you cry? Surely jury duty is a dreadful waste of time, involving endless waiting around while the attorneys argue before the judge over what evidence you should be allowed to hear? Ah, but grand juries are different! Read on.
To start with, after being empanelled we got a long spiel explaining the legal realities of the grand jury. The grand jury occupies the crucial space between the local court and the whole system for dealing with felonies. The grand jury is beholden to no-one. The grand jury makes its own rules. The grand jury can call and recall witnesses, act irresponsibly, dismiss charges on a whim, and all without any real oversight. No-one knows even how the vote goes Ė a majority of the 23 jurors is needed to indict, but no-one outside the jury room knows if was 23 to nothing or 12 to 11. Grand jurors are God.
And the cases themselves are fascinating - no Jarndyce v Jarndyce here. We started right off with a case right out of Law and Order. Cops cruising in unmarked cars, hunching down so they won't be seen, watching a drug transaction on the sidewalk - "She's reaching for the package - no, wait, it's just a Kleenex" - waiting for the purchaser to turn the corner before busting her; wait! - now the seller's strolling to the corner, sees the bust and takes off fast in the opposite direction. Now the cops are chasing him across back yards, leaping fences; now the cops are losing him; wait! - there he is, hiding under a porch. Guns hidden in radiator enclosures, bullets in coat pockets. Not much like Larchmont, where the major crime squad investigates high school students suspected of drinking beer and gardeners of operating leaf-blowers during prohibited hours.
I learned many interesting things during my tour, which lasted for 4 weeks, meeting two days a week. First, Yonkers is the seat of crime in Westchester County. Second, all cops are Italian. Third, felons are not very smart. Fourth, a lot of what the police do involves complying with procedural rules, like reading you your Miranda rights, which are crucial to getting a conviction. Which is not to say it is a bad idea to have such rules, but the police seem to spend all their time sealing bags of evidence, placing them in safes and writing up reports on who touched what when.
One other interesting thing I learned was that grand juries pretty much indict everyone they see. The cops do their work and the DA does his and they donít really have any reason to try to slip anything by us. There was no disagreement or uncertainty about the facts and the standard for indicting is pretty loose. The reason for our presence was really more as a monitor, like a poll-watcher, whose role is to ensure that nobody steps out of line.
Anyway, a fascinating glimpse into the soft underbelly of the judicial system.
New from the Monkeynut, fall 2007 - A summer of changes. Nick and Adriana got married in Grenada, Spain in early June. Until the last minute, I had hoped to be able to attend, but I had to spend the time in Middletown, Connecticut instead, working on an installation for a client. We got some magnificent video from Dennis, so we felt we were there in a virtual sort of way. We had the pleasure of hearing Nick and his dad both deliver lengthy addresses in magnificent Spanish (with hardly a hint of Yorkshire) to the families and friends.
Next, Madeleine's graduation, which I also missed while I was doing work for the same client. Maddi had claimed that she didn't care a jot about the ceremony, but it was still a major milestone in her life. Louise was happy to witness it and maybe Maddi felt the world rearranging itself to suit her new persona - a Barnard undergraduate!!!
The girls also entered the work force for the summer - Madeleine at Trader Joe's, a quirky grocery store headquartered in California, and Toni at the Larchmont Yacht Club. I believe it was a good experience for both of them, learning a bit of the ways of business, and they both collected a tidy sum of money by the end of the summer.
Barnard college is just across the street from the main Columbia campus. Barnard is now a college of Columbia, although Barnard is still for women only. Louise and I both gave Maddi copious advice about going off to college, none of which turned out to be particularly useful. On August 27, We bundled her and her stuff into the car and headed for the city. It was Labor day, and the traffic was light, so we were there in about a half hour. The University has moving in down to a fine art. We pulled to the curb, a helper bee, identified by a certain colored T-shirt, helped up lug the stuff out of the car and into a numbered chalk square on the sidewalk. We could then park the car, get a big basket on wheels, move the stuff into said basket and get escorted to the dorm and up to her room.
Maddi's dorm room was about as small as a room can be and still accomodate two people with even a modest amount of stuff. It also appear to predate electricity - electrical wires had been added, but they are in conduit on the face of the wall. We made uneasy jokes about running water and sanitary arrangements.
We all attended an elaborate orientation program, but it took me a while to realize that it was focussed on the parents, not the kids, and consisted of reassuring statements to the effect that many people had gone to Barnard and lived to tell the tale; that there were all kinds of arrangements that were designed to keep them safe; and that, no, we shouldn't plan on calling or visiting our undergraduette on a daily basis.
Of course, Maddi is not really gone now. Barnard is not far from Larchmont by car or train. We do talk on the phone and have seen her a couple of times, both here and there, but we are having to deal with the fact that we only have to set the table for three and house has very different feel without her. We love you lots and wish you all the success you so richly deserve, Maddi!
The Monkeynut's merry musings, Xmas 2007 - I was just watching an English Christmas movie on TV (Love, actually), and I was struck by a language difference - the characters in the movie wished each other a Happy Christmas. Sounds perfectly reasonable, but in the US, Christmases must be Merry, not Happy. So I began to consider if this difference reflected any subtle variation in the two nations' national characters. A happy Christmas may be defined in terms of what it isn't - no sickness, no financial difficulties to be resolved, no solitary meals eaten standing up in the kitchen while reading the paper, no lurking in alleyways or running from the law. Instead, you are content to be who you are and where you are. I have been happy, but, when I started thinking about it, I'm not sure I have ever really been merry. For one thing, merriness only surfaces around Christmas - you'd never wish someone a merry easter, or a merry birthday. Asked to name a merry fellow and you'd probably come up with Old King Cole, another person who materializes only once a year. When someone asks you "how are you?" in July, how often do you reply "I'm feeling very merry, thanks."
So what is this feeling that comes over all Americans around this time of year? Well, it probably includes the absence of pain, but I don't really think that is the key to merriment. To me, being merry involves a certain lack of restraint, perhaps to the point of giggling uncontrolably. Suddenly I recall the behavior of some of my fellow graduate students in the 1960ies, who would sometimes sit around on the couch, smoking something and chuckling to each other while watching a blank TV screen. They were merry, without a doubt.
And how about those merry gentlemen? Were they just feeling good? Or had they been ladling down a little too much wassail? And why is their mental state so fragile that we must exhort them not to be dismayed?
My final conclusion is that it really does reflect differences in national character. Happiness is a straightforward thing (though not always easy to attain). Being merry involves some degree of excess that Americans are always reaching for. If you like one million dollars, just think how good you'll feel with two. So I think I'm going to reach into my past and wish everyone a Happy Christmas - not as memorable, perhaps, as a truly Merry Christmas, but good enough just the same.